Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Economics 101 – Spend Money, Save Planet; Save Planet, Save Money?

This Magazine Staff

An article in the Toronto Star focuses on the projected costs involved in switching all Ontario electricity consumers from traditional kilowatt-hour meters to something called a smart meter, which has by all accounts huge potential for energy savings and greater efficiency within the electrical grid – any Ontarians out there remember the big black out of 2003? As I understand them, smart meters will allow consumers a greater specific knowledge of their overall consumption as well as time- and appliance-specific consumption patterns. They can measure electricity in dollars and cents, even as prices fluctuate in the marketplace, so consumers have direct incentive to take control of their consumption and maybe sweat out a heat wave now and then instead of running their air conditioners all day every day April to October.

“Smart meters could cost $2.3 billion” shouts the TorStar headline, as though that number must be scraped up out of a single piggy bank and set on fire, with a net benefit of zero. What kind of simple-minded economic reporting is this? I searched and searched the article for any indication of the overall projected savings in energy costs not only once all the meters are installed, but even incrementally, as they are put in place, meter by meter. Perhaps a mention of the environmental impact of lower demand on all types of generation? No? Oh, wait, how about the economic benefit to electrical contractors who will be installing millions of new meters and removing millions of old ones? No?

Oh for the day when my media will understand context.

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